A taste for ancient times
Mutton and Mead fest cooks up plenty
Great Unwashed players "Rufus" and "Mudley" adorn "Rosie Cheeks" with a pine needle hair ornament to prepare her to act the part of a damsel during the Saturday performance of "Knights and Damsels Training" at the Mutton and Mead Festival in Turners Falls. The Great Unwashed players perform in a mud pit.
"Sir Ian of Athol" attempts to capture a ring during one of the jousting events held at Saturday's Mutton and Mead Festival in Turners Falls.
MONTAGUE — The art of roasting pig cheeks was among the many resurrected from the history books over the weekend, alongside the more warlike aspects of medieval life.
Phred Jenkins of Chicopee tended a pig’s head and a pot of ale and chicken soup Sunday afternoon, a demonstration for the festival-goers and dinner for the cast of 60 or so volunteers who brought a slice of quasi-mythic Nottinghamshire to the Millers Falls Rod and Gun Club on Saturday and Sunday for the third annual Mutton and Mead Medieval Festival.
Mutton was on the menu elsewhere — one barbecue vendor offered mutton kabobs — and Jenkins thinks sheep, like pig’s face, is a food that has wrongfully lost its place in the modern kitchen.
A historical interpreter with the Society for Creative Anachronism, Jenkins was working with anything but a modern kitchen.
Normally, however, she looks to pair old recipes to new realities, finding ways to make similar food with modern appliances substituting for the cheap labor available in feudal times.
“I also use cheaper cuts of meat, instead of the ones (available because) you can order someone to kill a cow for a feast,” she said.
Sunday’s pig head is leftover from Saturday’s whole pig and Jenkins said the cheeks were once a delicacy; the most powerful person at the table awarded the so-called “king’s portion” to a lucky diner.
Cooking is just one of the facets of medieval life the society seeks to revive. Jenkins herself also practices 13th century German miniature painting.
“We will reproduce any art form that you can imagine that doesn’t kill anyone or is prejudicial,” Jenkins said. “Religious persecution is right out.”
The festival, a benefit for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the Montague Common Hall, brought in crowds with theater, music, food, craft vendors, children’s activities and history for two rain-free days.
Staff from the Higgins Armory Museum concentrated on the history. Among the several historical groups present, the Higgins group demonstrated medieval combat and tried to dispel myths about armor and the Worcester museum, that they’re closed, for example.
The museum is slated to close its doors for good Dec. 31, but will remain open until then.
The Higgins Academy of the Sword — future currently uncertain — researches and teaches medieval martial arts and the museum contains a wide collection of medieval arms and armor. The collection will be transferred to the Worcester Art Museum, where it will go on display beginning in 2014, according to educational programs coordinator Nancy Huntington.
For Huntington and interpretation coordinator Morgan Kuberry, an accurate view of history is the point.
Kuberry compares ignorance of history or a mythologized view of the past to a human who can’t remember their life beyond a few years.
“To be trapped in the present is no way to live,” said Kuberry. “Animals are trapped in the present.”
Under a tent across the field, metalworker Theodore Hinman of Greenfield has created a medieval version of his Northampton teaching studio and is trying to give children a feel for the craft with hammer, anvil and cold aluminum wire.
The Mehlmans of South Deerfield are in line at Hinman’s tent, and agree they have been enjoying themselves at the festival. Trolls and the Dori, 7, volunteers the mud show as a high point of the day and Jack, 12, is enthused by the idea of forging metal.
Elsewhere, an armored combat demonstration has just wrapped up and children are fighting with wooden Samurai swords and, apparently, magic.